Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, the debut novel by Jesse Bullington, is not for the faint of heart. The book follows antiprotagonists and twin brothers Hegel and Manfried Grossbart, graverobbing bastards and whoresons that they are, on their journey south from Germany to "Gyptland" for the riches of the Infidel tombs.  Along the way they battle witches and manticores, demons and sirens; the brothers believing themselves fighting on the side of the Virgin (though this line of thinking may not be wrong, exactly, twisted as it is).

It's sort of an anti-Odyssey with intermingling folktales, Nicolette's and the priest's tale as standouts. Sad Tale is written at times almost as an historical text (see the preface, specifically), but with closer points-of-view throughout so that the reader isn't too distanced from the pain and suffering and evil rampant throughout. Bullington wants you to feel this imagery and you do, you really do.

When it debuted, Sad Tale caused quite a ruckus because of its incredibly grotesque imagery and language and harsh depiction of Medieval Europe, and because it is difficult for readers to emphathize with its main characters, unless of course, you're an unsympathetic murdering bastard. Regardless, Sad Tale is a wonderfully readable and engrossing story. The Brothers Grossbard, for all their inane qualities, aren't stupid (or, rather, they're just smart enough). The bearded brothers are philosophers, debating theology with themselves and priests and laypersons throughout the novel; they are fierce fighters, unafraid of battle and death; they're crafty and remain cool under duress (for the most part); hell, they've got a sense of humor about things (I was laughing out loud as the brothers debated how many demons they killed and whether or not the pig was a demon; or Hegel's mistrusting of four-legged animals in general).

It is that playfulness, alongside the brothers' evil, that sets Bullington in a class all his own. In lesser hands, this book would've been too serious, too dark, too grotesque, too adrift without plot; but with Bullington it is all of those things and something more, something akin to perfection.

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